ell, named after its creator Hellmaster Phibrizo, was not a place where you had fun.  It was a place where you had everything except fun, and in vast amounts.
    The cavern kingdom could easily be entered, via the gaping maw of the gates, which actually were tastefully decorated.  In a bit of mock humor, someone had dropped a doormat in front of the entrance, reading 'Welcome to our Happy Hell. Please wipe your feet.'
    "This place seems sociable," Chi'Bi commented.
    "Sure, they welcome anybody who wants to come in," Lara noted.  "The trick is getting out again.  Nobody does, in fact.  There's only one entrance, and there are no exits."
    "But.. isn't this door a way out too?" he asked, gesturing to the simple looking wooden door.
    "Work with me here, Chi'Bi.  I know what I'm talking about," Lara said.  "This is Hell, after all."
    "You mean... the place where dead souls go when they've been evil?!" Chi'Bi asked, horrified.  He was picking up on emotions well; as long as you didn't mind his total overreaction to everything.  "We're doomed!  We can't go in there, the vicious demons will eat us!  I didn't do anything bad enough to spend forever in Hell!"
    "You're wrong about one thing," Lara said, putting her hand on the doorknob.  "This isn't where evil people go."
    "It's not?"
    "Nope.  It's where anybody who pisses off the Mazoku go," she said.  "Good, bad, neutral... nobody said it was fair.  The Mazoku don't do fair.  Now hold your breath."
    She twisted the knob, and opened the vortex, bracing for the rush...
    Lara and Chi'Bi were sucked into the front door of Hell like ping pong balls into a tornado.  The door slammed shut behind them, doorknocker clacking a few times from the inertia.
    Lara didn't remember the journey that took her here the first time she visited, so many years ago.  All she remembered was opening the door she was instructed to open, and waking in her cell, her new home...
    This time, she wasn't expected by anybody.  She simply snapped out of the trance, touching down outside the main city of Hell.
    As usual, the decor was red.  Very, very red, with lots of black thrown in for variety.  The ground was a red dirt, the rivers ran with glowing red lava, and the roof of the cavern -- very visible, so nobody had any doubts that they were in the underworld -- was red with lots of sharp stalactites that threatened to crack off, fall, and impale you.  Which they did from time to time.  (Lara grew used to the sound last time she was here, so that wouldn't be a problem.)  In the distance, the screaming of whoever they were working on at the time was readily apparent, magically enhanced so that plenty of people could listen in.  Naturally, all the activity was inside the gates of Hellhaven, the main city of Hell; it'd be too unorganized to let the damned wander around outside its gates.  Besides, the enclosed stone maze that separated the plains from the city was something of an obstacle.
    Things hadn't changed much.
    Truth be told, a tiny pang of fear shot down Lara's back on arrival.  The last time she was here... fortunately, Shaburanigdo helped her forget most of the last time she was here, when he freed her from the prison of Hell.  But enough semblance of memory remained to be as nervous as a cat in a dog factory.  Not that she would show it to anybody.
    Chi'Bi overreacted as usual.  "I want to leave!  I want to leave right now!!"
    "Give it a rest," Lara said.  "This place isn't scary once you realize it was designed to scare you.  It's just an evil looking city underground and nothing more.  Obviously they're going to do their best to freak you out, and frankly, they're not very original about it... there's only so many ways to cause pain, you know, before you just get tired and uninterested of it.  This place is about as frightening to me as navel lint."
    "It's safe?" he asked.
    "The city is relatively safe.  It's the people in it you need to worry about," Lara said.  "Stay behind me and hang on and if anything grabs you, kick it.  If it doesn't let go, speak up and I'll make it let go.  But otherwise, shut up and let me handle this place.  We clear?"
    "C-clear," Chi'Bi agreed.  "But.. why do we have to do this?"
    "I've explained this--"
    "We could just go back," Chi'Bi said.  "Forget this quest.  I could go home!  It's not so bad there.  I mean, what's so imp--"
    Lara backhanded him casually, sending the boy sprawling.
    "Don't question this quest again, okay?" she politely requested.  "Because I don't have time to deal with stupid questions.  Father wants it done.  I AM father's will.  Even if it means diving headfirst back into a Hell I intended never to return to... besides, I told you to shut up and let me handle this, and if you say one more word, I might consider leaving you here.  Now... are we clear this time?"
    Chi'Bi almost said 'clear', but considering his orders, returned a shaky nod instead.
    "The road leading up the city usually takes two years to follow," Lara stated, focusing her magic.  "I'd prefer to get this mission over with sooner than that.  We're taking a shortcut.  Cover your eyes."
    Two standard issue Hellfiend Mazoku were on guard duty at the gate, to taunt the damned souls that filtered down here through Hellhaven's gate maze.  Things had been slow lately... with two of the Mazoku Lords out of commission, including the master of this domain, few folks were being damned.  All the better; it gave them more time to play poker.
    "I'll see your fingerbone and raise you a toe," the First of the Guard said, adding to the pot, which doubled as lunch for later.  "Call."
    "Four of a kind, all knights," his companion grinned, razor sharp teeth gleaming.  "And you?"
    "Crap," the First grumbled, tossing down his cards.  "You're cheating, aren't you?"
    "Yeah.  You wanna make something of it?"
    "Maybe after lunch," the First shrugged.  "I'm too hungry."
    A low but powerful rumble shook the card table, sending 'chips' toppling.  The rickety, ancient thing finally came to a painful demise, one of the rusted iron legs buckling, dumping the soup on the floor.
    The Guards were up in a flash.  "What the--"
    A nearby part of the stone maze shattered into fine powder, the powder blasted away by a wind spell.  Through this nice circular door stepped a black sorceress.
    "I hate it when the damned get cocky," the Guard spat.  "You know how hard it is to fix that stupid maze after one of them decides to get impatient?  You'll pay for those damages eventually, morta--"
    His head exploded.
    "I'm not here looking for a residence, I'm here on business," Lara said, pointing a smoking hand at the second guard.  "Problem?"
    "No ma'am," he said quickly.
    "Who's running this place now that Phibrizo got fried?"
    "F-Fiori, ma'am."
    "Don't know her.  Don't care that I don't know her.  Make sure she knows I need an escorted ride in to see her, and if you leave me waiting more than ten minutes for it, I'd suggest just killing yourself and saving me the trouble of cutting bits off over the span of several days."
    "I could start with your butt, if that's what you want," Lara suggested.
    The demon ran as fast as it possibly could, darting inside the city gates.
    Lara, satisfied with her task, kicked one of the folding chairs to the side so she'd have a good vantage of all entrances to the area.  She gave her legs a well deserved rest... and looked at the pensive chimera.
    "Fine, talk," she allowed.
    "You're... jeez!  You're BRAVE!" he said, in visible awe.  "That you could stand up like that... and what a cool threat!  It--"
    "Was wholly unoriginal, and overly Dramatic," Lara said.  "But that's the only garbage that works against these people.  I know them inside and out, and if I just told them to go get the headmistress of Hell, they'd laugh and taunt and we'd be sitting here for hours playing Hero and Bad Guy.  If you just cut to the punchline things go faster.  Please don't confuse what I just did with clever wit.  Unless you mean clever application of pseudo-wit."
    Chi'Bi wasn't quite able to understand her, but nodded along anyway.
    Lara allowed herself a sigh, a visible sign of annoyance.  "Sometimes I wish father's minions were smarter.  Closest one to intelligent I've seen is Zelas-Metallum and her ex-crony, but that's not enough.  If all of them had more brains, maybe they'd have destroyed the world properly by now.  Lord, I hate the Mazoku."
    Phibrizo's throne room was the only part of Hell that Lara had noticed changes to.
    For starters, it was loaded with randomly scattered toys.  There were building blocks a plenty with unholy sigils and numbers carved on them, lots of books, more plush dolls with tentacles and  claws than the law should allow... and the throne itself had been decorated to death with red ribbons and sparkly glitter.
    As had the headmistress of Hell, Princess Fiori.
    "Golly gee!" Fiori smiled, radiating cuteness and innocence like an aura.  "If I had known the Knight of Shaburanigdo was here, I'd have set up a parade!  We could make the damned drag huge floats of the demon king, and there'd be ticker tape and ice cream and cookies!  And everybody would have a good time inside entertainment."
    "What a shame," Lara said dryly.
    But to be honest?  She wasn't surprised.  Phibrizo often took the guise of a child, and certainly spoke like one.  Why not leave one in charge of the works when he left?  Although she was confused as to how this would be an adequate source of pain and nightmares...
    She was short, with golden curls and trusting blue eyes.  Her pretty red dress had nary a wrinkle in it, and her little red shoes were nice and shiny.  The only things keeping her from looking just like some irritating human moppet were her slitted Mazoku eyes, and the plushie demon king doll she carried around.
    "Don't worry, Lara-chan!  We'll have fun anyway, even if we don't have a parade.  I'll--"
    "I don't have time for a parade or any kind of fun," Lara interrupted.  "I'm looking for a chain made out of silver, which is somewhere in your kingdom.  No Mazoku can touch it without being burned, so it shouldn't be lost.  Where can I find the place where it rests?"
    Fiori paused, not liking the interruption, waiting for Lara to finish.  Waiting a few moments, she continued herself.  "I'll just arrange a little fun while we talk it over, and maybe you can stay and we'll have a lot of--"
    "No fun!" Lara said.  "I'm on an important mission here."
    The little girl started turning red, like her dress.  She hopped off the throne, and stamped her foot.  "I WANT TO HAVE FUN!  I don't care about your stupid mission!  I won't help you until I get entertained and that's that, you stupid little human!  You keep being mean and I'll cry and then you'll be really, really sorry!!"
    Lara didn't back down.  Shaburanigdo gave her power before to deal with Phibrizo and Gaav; now that he was back, he'd help her here in a pinch.  But it was still better not to screw around, no matter how much she preferred the direct approach.
    "Fine... fun.  Fun's good.  A little fun, okay?" she asked.
    Fiori's mood skyrocketed back to manic cheer.  "YAAAAY!  Fun!"  She clapped her hands twice.  "Bring out the entertainment!!"
    Lara quickly learned why Fiori was just right for her job.
    The little girl, despite her harmless looks, was a pure sadist.  True, she did it in a childlike innocent way, gleefully dropping rats into cages around the heads of the damned or hopping over close to examine what a burn looked like, but make no mistake -- she had the tried and true methods of torture and general nastiness down.
    "Aren't these fun games and toys?" Fiori asked, twisting the handle on one of the contraptions she had hauled out.  "Here, you take that end and I'll take this one!  It works better from two directions!"
    Lara played along at first, but after three hours went by (Chi'Bi passed out from fright and nausea early on) she began to theorize that the little girl could be entertained for days at a time without sleep.  Something was going to have to give.
    "Look, Fiori..." Lara reasoned, trying to talk over the sound of the people Fiori just had shipped into the throne room.  "I'd love to come back and play more, but you know, Shaburanigdo has this quest for me... very important.  Shaburanigdo.  You know, like your dolly?"
    "Shabby-chan is my friend," Fiori giggled.
    "Riiight.  Anyway, I really need that chain, so if you could--"
    "It's under my throne," Fiori said, pointing to the large cute chair.  "Phibrizo-sama had the chair built over it because he thought the thing was important, but we never figured out why it was.  You can have it, I don't think it's very fun."
    Lara kicked herself for not casing the room earlier.  She walked behind the throne, and squinted into the dark recesses underneath the bloody thing... and sure enough, there was a faintly glowing silver length of chain, just sitting there.  Probably had been sitting there for thousands of years, too.
    She grabbed it without a thought and stuffed the thing into a pocket on her cloak.
    "Thanks," Lara thanked.  "I'll just pick up my chimera and head off.  Sorry to be a bother."
    Fiori fidgeted from foot to foot, barely able to contain a happy surprise.  Smiles coated her.
    "Oooooooh, I don't know..." she said, teasing.  "What makes you think I'll let you head off?"
    Lara's eyes narrowed, but she let the girl speak.
    "You escaped from my big brother Phibrizo once and that made him very unhappy," Fiori accused, still grinning.  "You hurt him and he was really, really unhappy then.  You're one of the only mortals to ever, ever escape Hell.  So why should I let you go, when I've got you now?  The only way to leave this place is with the blessing of its owner, and you won't twist my arm like you did big brother's.  I wanna finish playing with you like he did.  He said you were fuuunn..."
    Lara had had enough by this point.
    "I'm the daughter of Shaburanigdo, you pint sized glass of sugary stupidity," Lara said flatly.  "You think threats scare me?  He's your lord and master, and he's not going to put up with you treating me like this.  That's why he busted me out of here in the first place.  He cares for HIS daughter and won't let her get hurt."
    "I don't believe in Shaburanigdo," Fiori said simply.  She gave her dolly another hug.  "Shaburanigdo is dead and he can't do anything for the Mazoku.  But I believe in Shabby-chan.  Shabby-chan is real and alive and my Shabby-chan says it's time to play with you.  Guards?"
    Hellspawn started to flow into the room, thick as thieves.
    No more playing, Lara thought, and tapped the power of Shaburanigdo directly, as she had done years before......
    ...and found nothing there.  He wasn't present in the world, not in the place she remembered him being.  But that was THE place... he couldn't move, he was there for her before!  Where was father now?  He helped her against Zelas-Metallum!!  Why wasn't he helping her escape Hell again?
    Lara was powerful, but not powerful enough to bust out of Hell on her own.
    "I'm going to have a lot of fun," Fiori said.  And meant it.
    But Lara Inverse wasn't in terror.  She was calculating.  Anything it took, she'd do.  Without fear of being struck down, moving with confidence enough to fool anybody for the right number of seconds, she reached out and yanked the Shabby-chan dolly away from Fiori.
    The reaction was instant.  The little girl's eyes went wide with horror, as Lara grabbed two limbs of the doll and threatened to tear it apart.
    "We're leaving," Lara reiterated.  "Me and Chi'Bi.  Or Shabby-chan gets it."
    She quickly cast a spell to revive the chimera and kicked him awake; a few dark looks got the boy to keep behind her as he had promised.  Lara slowly, very slowly, backed out of the throne room, keeping the doll hostage.
    The seas of demons parted for her, all the way to the gate of Hell, which Fiori opened for her.  Lara tossed the doll behind her and closed the door fast... escaped again.
    The pair marched along the caves dejectedly, as they had for the last two days.  Lara refused to say much of anything, except order Chi'Bi to help her get to the surface.  She never let on that she didn't know where she was going.
    Her father didn't return to guide her.  He didn't help her against Hell.  Something was wrong.  But Lara tried not to care... she was her father's will, and eventually, he would guide her.  He would.
    "Where are we going?" Chi'Bi finally asked.
    "Shut up and walk," Lara ordered.
    It was a quest that took her almost a decade so far, but she'd please her father in the end.  The end of everything wasn't far away, and Lara fully intended to be there, laughing at the daughters that distracted her father away... laughing, while she burned the world.  That was a thought that kept her confident, despite the silence of the demon king.
    It would only be a matter of time now.  Then, she'd be happy.
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.